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Understanding White Balance

In photographic terms, White Balance is the balancing of color temperature in your photos, so that whites in the photo appear white. This balancing of color temperature is controlled by settings on your camera. If you don’t change the White Balance, depending on the type of light that illuminates your subject, you may see a blue, yellow/orange or even green color cast in your photos.

Yellow Cast

Blue Cast

White Balanced

Different light sources produce different color temperatures which are captured in your photos: Cloudy skies and shade produce a blue color; indoor lighting (Tungsten/Fluorescent) produces a yellow, orange or green color. You don’t see these color casts when looking at the subject with your eyes because the brain compensates for the color differences in light, but the camera does not.

Based on the type of light source, you can select White Balance settings on your camera to compensate for those color casts. The camera settings make adjustments based on the Kelvin scale, which is how color temperature is measured.

When shooting in low artificial tungsten or incandescent light (nighttime, church and room interiors, candlelight. when NO sunlight or daylight is present), use a LOW color temperature setting like “Incandescent/Tungsten setting, or a low color temperature on the Kelvin scale, like 2500 to 3500.

When shooting outdoors in the sun or cloudy day, use the Cloudy White balance or 5000 to 6000 Kelvin.

When shooting indoors with mixed lighting (daylight coming in the window, mixed with artificial light from floor or ceiling light,  use Auto White Balance for best color.

Most, if not all digital cameras on the market today have several white balance settings:

  • Daylight/Sunny
  • Cloudy
  • Shade
  • Indoor (Tungsten/Fluorescent)
  • Flash
  • Auto

Many photographers leave the WB setting on Auto and let the camera figure out the color temperature of the light source, but sometimes the color is still “off”, so the best approach is to take a photo in several white balance settings, review the images and choose the setting that comes closest to the image that you are seeing with your eyes.

In addition to the standard White Balance settings, some cameras will also allow adjustment of the color temperature using the Kelvin Scale. If you want to learn more about making adjustments using the Kelvin Scale, join WPS Director E. David Luria on a safari. He’ll be happy to show you how it’s done!

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